Nurse Tracy Silta draws a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the walk-in clinic at the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling Highways in Soldotna, Alaska on Wednesday, June 9, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

Nurse Tracy Silta draws a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the walk-in clinic at the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling Highways in Soldotna, Alaska on Wednesday, June 9, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

Booster shots roll out on the peninsula

Health officials recommend consulting with a primary care provider to determine eligibility.

Kenai Public Health Center is offering a COVID-19 Pfizer-BioNTech booster shot clinic every Thursday through the month of October, according to a press release from the center.

The additional Pfizer doses are available for anyone 65 years or older, anyone 18 and older living in long-term care facilities, anyone 18 and older with underlying health conditions and anyone 18 and older working in high-risk settings.

Health officials recommend consulting with a primary care provider to determine eligibility.

The booster, approved by the Food and Drug Administration on Sept. 22, is only currently available for people who received the Pfizer vaccine for their primary two-dose series.

Booster doses are expected to become available for eligible populations who received either the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson/Janssen COVID shots soon, health officials say.

As of right now, however, only Pfizer boosters are authorized by the FDA, and mixing vaccines is not recommended.

Additionally, the FDA approved a third dose of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for emergency use in immunocompromised people on Aug. 12. Primary care providers can determine eligibility for additional COVID-19 vaccine doses.

The booster effort comes as the delta COVID variant is still circulating widely in Alaska.

According to the latest state epidemiology report, the delta variant “rapidly became the dominant” strain in Alaska during June and July, and has “likely also contributed to the increased proportion of vaccine breakthrough cases.”

But as statewide vaccination rates haven’t increased as quickly as they have in the rest of the country, Alaska is in the midst of its worst COVID surge yet.

The Department of Health and Social Services reported three more COVID-19 deaths Wednesday — all elderly Anchorage residents — pushing the statewide death total to 564 since the pandemic began and contributing to the more than 700,000 deaths nationwide.

Statewide, there were 199 COVID-related hospitalizations as of Wednesday.

At Central Peninsula Hospital there were 17 COVID patients on Wednesday morning — 15 unvaccinated — with four both in the intensive care unit and on ventilators. The hospital as a whole was operating at 98% capacity.

On Tuesday there were seven patients on ventilators at CPH, and Bruce Richards, the external affairs director, confirmed that two of the three patients who came off ventilators Wednesday died.

Alaska remains the state with the highest number of new per-capita cases in the country, according to the New York Times.

On Wednesday, the state reported 867 new COVID cases. Alaska remained at a high alert level with an estimated seven-day rolling average of 839.5 cases per 100,000 people across the state.

The threshold for high alert level is 100 or more cases per 100,000 people. The state has surpassed that metric more than eight times over.

Wednesday’s new case count included 43 in Soldotna, 38 in Kenai, 11 in Homer, seven in Sterling, four in the Kenai Peninsula Borough North, three in Seward, and one each in Anchor Point and Nikiski.

Health officials widely agree that choosing to get vaccinated is the single best tool there is to protect the people in each community.

Across the state, 58.4% of everyone 12 and up was fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Another 63.6% had received at least one shot.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough’s vaccination rate continues to lag behind many other regions.

As of Wednesday, 49% of people 12 and older were fully vaccinated and another 53% had received at least one dose. The only census area to have a lower vaccination rate was the Matanuska-Susitna region on Friday, at 41.3%.

On Wednesday, the DHSS issued a disclaimer on its vaccination tracking dashboard that the figures may be overestimations.

Getting a COVID vaccine

COVID-19 vaccines do not cost money.

As an incentive to get the shots, the DHSS and Alaska Chamber of Commerce launched a lottery program for newly vaccinated eligible residents that offers weekly winners a prize of at least $49,000. To find out the eligibility requirements or to enter into the giveaway sweepstakes, visit giveakashot.com. The lottery lasts through Oct. 30.

Many different organizations on the central peninsula, including pharmacies in Walmart, Walgreens, and the Kenai Fire Department offer vaccines. They are also available for both residents and visitors at airports in Anchorage, Juneau and Fairbanks.

Additionally, Soldotna Professional Pharmacy hosts a walk-in clinic in its strip mall storefront at the “Y” intersection of the Sterling and Kenai Spur highways Monday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Vaccination appointments can also be scheduled through the online portal PrepMod, which can be accessed at myhealth.alaska.gov.

A map of vaccine providers can be found on DHSS’ COVID-19 vaccine website at covidvax.alaska.gov.

People who would like assistance with scheduling a vaccination appointment can call the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management call center. The center operates Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon. The central peninsula call center can be reached at 907-262-4636. The Homer call center can be reached at 907-235-4636. The Seward call center can be reached at 907-224-4636.

COVID testing locations

Officials encourage anyone with symptoms to test for COVID-19, despite vaccination status.

In Kenai, testing is available at the Chignik Lagoon Clinic, Odyssey Family Practice, Kenai Public Health Center and Capstone Clinic.

In addition to normal weekday hours, Capstone will be offering weekend testing from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through the week of October.

In Soldotna, testing is available at the Peninsula Community Health Center, Urgent Care of Soldotna, Walgreens and Soldotna Professional Pharmacy.

In Seward, testing is available at Providence Medical Center, Chugachmiut-North Star Health Clinic, Glacier Family Medicine, Seward Community Health Center and the Safeway pharmacy. Starting Sept. 14, the Seward Community Health Center is offering drive-through testing Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.

In Homer, testing is available at South Peninsula Hospital, or through other area health care providers at Seldovia Village Tribe Health and Wellness, Kachemak Medical Group and Homer Medical Center.

Reach reporter Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.

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